Tucked far away, in the southeasternmost corner of Costa Rica, mere kilometers from the Sixoala border-crossing into Panama, is the vibrant Caribbean beach town of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. Even without the incessant traffic, never-ending highway construction, and other human-made delays along the way, Puerto Viejo is, undoubtedly, well off the beaten track – and well worth the trip.
If you decide to make the journey, it’s recommended that you stay at least a little while. Take some time to soak up all the stunning, natural splendor that make this corner of the world so special. Go on a tour (or three) and dine at a few of the 150+ eateries between Cahuita and Manzanillo, with cuisine inspired by, and infused with, flavors from around the globe. Check out some of our favorites here: Top 10 Eateries in PV: Dinner Edition
But you’re reading this article because you’re not in Puerto Viejo for a long while; you need to know how to make the most of your very limited time in the Caribbean. So, what to do if you’re only in town 24 hours or less? Keep reading for our suggested “Short Layover Itineraries” for Puerto Viejo.
1. Bike ride
2. Local wildlife
3. Night tour
7. Don’t leave
If you’re only passing through, I’m guessing you’re probably on your way to Bocas del Toro, Panama, and your transportation service has a scheduled an overnight layover in Puerto Viejo. First, there are far worse places to be stuck spending the night. Second, don’t write-off Puerto as an inconvenient delay on the road to your next destination. Leave your hotel room and take advantage of every minute you’re here – you won’t regret it!
As a tourist destination, Puerto Viejo is rapidly gaining popularity, hosting some of the world’s best beaches (Top 25 Beaches in the World, according to TripAdvisor); world-class surf; a vibrant, multicultural community; and a famously laid-back approach to life. The party scene is lively and, if that’s your idea of “making the most of the Caribbean” then, by all means, follow your ears – the loud music is a “Come In, We’re Open” sign and will lead you to the type of establishment you seek. However, if you’re the type of traveler more interested in the activities and attractions that are unique to a place (and prefer leaving with fond memories rather than a hangover), we’ve got a few insider tips for you.
My top recommendation is this: Don’t leave so soon…
If your itinerary permits it, extend your layover in Puerto Viejo a little... In my experience, it only takes 2 or 3 full days to get the complete Bocas experience, so if you’ve allotted yourself more time, maybe consider sharing some of it with Puerto Viejo. You’re already here and it was a long trip; there’s a good chance you’ll never return. Think of the experiences you’re missing out on! In fact, here’s a short list of what you’re giving up: Top 10 Activities in Puerto Viejo
If extending your trip is simply not an option, here are some suggestions for making the most out of your ONE DAY in Puerto Viejo.
1. Go for A Bicycle Ride
Did you know that Puerto Viejo is just one in a string of six small beachfront towns? And did you know you can easily see all six towns in less than three hours – on a bicycle? Well, it’s true. And there’s no better way to check out the coast than on a coast cruiser – the signature mode of transportation in the Caribbean.
Talk to your ho(s)tel, or hit the streets, and you’re certain to find a row of colorful bicycles waiting to be rented. Once you have your cruiser, it’s time to hit the pavement. Until a few years ago, the 14km stretch of beach highway from Playa Negra to Manzanillo was in various states of disrepair and the ride was riddled with hazards. Today, it’s a smooth, flat, and freshly paved road, which makes for an easy ride. Just go slow and keep your eyes peeled for monkeys and sloths hanging in the trees along the way. If you get hot, stop almost anywhere for a dip in the sea!
DON’T FORGET: You are sharing the road with other cyclists, motorists, animals, and pedestrians – be careful and always ride in single file!
2. Meet the Local Wildlife
If you didn’t spot any jungle creatures on your bike ride, don’t fret – book a tour at the world-renowned Jaguar Rescue Center (JRC) and you’re sure to get your fill.
The JRC is full of mammals, birds, and reptiles native to the region – but it’s definitely not a zoo. Most of the animals at the JRC are only temporary residents, receiving medical attention or ongoing rehabilitation. Dedicated staff and volunteers work around the clock to provide the best possible care for sick and injured animals, and your entrance fee goes directly to supporting this phenomenal cause. Check it out here: Jaguar Rescue Center Tours
As fantastic – and important – as rehabilitation centers are, interacting with the local fauna in their natural habitat is a truly extraordinary experience. Fortunately, you need only trek a few meters into the jungle to escape humankind and find yourself immersed in one of Costa Rica’s astonishingly diverse, thriving natural ecosystems. We highly recommend checking out Cahuita National Park for this purpose.
The small, quiet town of Cahuita is only 20 minutes outside of Puerto Viejo and is home to a breathtaking protected park, teeming with all sorts of wildlife, and lined with golden beaches. The hike is very easy and requires no special equipment or footwear; however, guides are available at the entrance to the park and are amazing at spotting hidden or camouflaged animals.
**Friendly Reminder: Be respectful to the animals; you are a guest – and an uninvited one, at that. Mind your flash, watch where you step, no littering (obviously), keep volume at a reasonable level, and don’t poke, prod, pick up, or feed any living thing. Make sure that the young humans in your group understand why taking these measures is so important to ensuring the health of the animals and the integrity of their home for generations to come.
3. Venture into the Deep Dark Jungle
Sound scary? Trust me, as a mild entomophobe, I promise you it’s not that bad. In fact, a guided night tour into the jungle is an experience like no other, and is the perfect activity to fill that post-dinner time-slot.
When the sun goes down, the jungle doesn’t sleep. Quite the contrary. An entirely new variety of animalia wakes up and an exciting, lively energy flows beneath the dark, forest canopy. The sounds of the jungle are immersive – try closing your eyes and focus on your sense of hearing – its chaos sung in a perfect, natural harmony.
This is definitely an activity you want to hire a guide for, as it’s difficult to navigate the jungle in the dark if you’re not already familiar with the layout. Message us directly and we will connect you with one of our passionate and trusted nature specialists from RARG: Rainforest Animal Rescue Group!
4. Get High
Puerto Viejo has a relatively new attraction which will take you high into the sky for a thrilling birds-eye view of the lush coast. All you have to do is strap into a harness attached to a canopy fastened to the back of a speeding boat, and you’re off!
Parasailing is not only an adrenaline inducing adventure activity, but it’s also the most accessible, affordable way to experience the Caribbean coastline from a truly unique perspective – unless you happen to own a helicopter. In Puerto Viejo, you’ll want to talk to the crew at Walaba Adventures to secure your spot on this tour of a lifetime!
5. Go Chasing Waterfalls
Drive back out of town the way you came in, travel for about 6 minutes, then turn left at the 3-way intersection (near the Colono hardware store) and drive another 10 minutes into the hills. Once you cross a small bridge, look for a driveway coming up quickly on your left. You have now arrived at La Catarata – or The Waterfall.
It may not be the most glorious display of falling water in all of Costa Rica, but it’s certainly not the least. The advantage of this waterfall is convenience. We’ve already established that you’re on a tight schedule and don’t have time to waste. The round-trip to the falls can easily be done in less than 2 hours, giving you plenty of time to swim in the pools, jump off the cliffs, or simply take in the sights and sounds.
Got a few extra minutes? Located a few kilometers further into Bribri is the waterfall Volio. A bit more secluded and impressive; with a guide, you can get the full experience in about 2.5 hours.
BONUS: Because of its proximity to the falls, many tour operators also offer a chocolate tour add-on. See, touch, and taste every stage of the traditional chocolate-making process in one of the world's leading cocoa producing regions.
6. Hit the Beach
There’s plenty to do on the beach. From the black volcanic beaches of Playa Negra to the golden sands of Punta Uva, there are opportunities to surf, swim, snorkel, sunbathe, stand-up paddleboard, and even kayak up a jungle river.
Depending on the conditions, you will find rental boards and surf instructors on the beaches in Puerto Viejo center (The Barge) and Cocles (Beach Break). The picturesque coastline at Arrecife point in Punta Uva is the perfect spot to swim, suntan, or rent your paddleboard or kayak. This popular beach also happens to be the take-off spot for the paragliding tour.
REAL TALK: Rip currents are serious business. They can exist in any body of water and our coast is no exception. Dangerously strong rips are present most of the year and it's important to educate yourself on the dynamic nature of rip currents, including the best practices should you find yourself caught. Despite recent efforts in Costa Rica, many beaches still do not have regular lifeguards on duty. A significant number of people around the world do drown in rip currents so we can not emphasize enough the importance of ocean awareness and beach safety.
Finally, while not necessarily known for consistent and spectacular solar displays like the West Coast, the Caribbean occasionally delivers. If you’re up early, try to catch a sunrise on the beach. Or grab a sunset drink at any of the many beach-on bars in town. You may get lucky!